Venue: Conference Room 2 - The Forum. View directions
Contact: Corporate and Democratic Support 01442 228209
To confirm the minutes from the previous meeting.
The minutes of the previous meeting were agreed by the members present and then signed by the Chairman.
Apologies for absence
To receive any apologies for absence
Apologies for absence were received from Councillors Chapman, Claughton, Elliot, Tindall and Townsend.
Councillor Stevens substituted for Councillor Townsend.
Councilor Wilkie substituted for Councillor Tindall.
Declarations of Interest
To receive any declarations of interest
A member with a disclosable pecuniary interest or a personal interest in a matter who attends a meeting of the authority at which the matter is considered -
(i) must disclose the interest at the start of the meeting or when the interest becomes apparent
and, if the interest is a disclosable pecuniary interest, or a personal interest which is also prejudicial
(ii) may not participate in any discussion or vote on the matter (and must withdraw to the public seating area) unless they have been granted a dispensation.
A member who discloses at a meeting a disclosable pecuniary interest which is not registered in the Members’ Register of Interests, or is not the subject of a pending notification, must notify the Monitoring Officer of the interest within 28 days of the disclosure.
Disclosable pecuniary interests, personal and prejudicial interests are defined in Part 2 of the Code of Conduct For Members
[If a member is in any doubt as to whether they have an interest which should be declared they should seek the advice of the Monitoring Officer before the start of the meeting]
The Chairman declared an interest as the Company he owns rents a garage from DBC.
Councillor Guest advised that one of the performance reports made reference to a TRO in Old Fishery Lane. She declared an interest as that work was being funded by her HCC locality budget.
An opportunity for members of the public to make statements or ask questions in accordance with the rules as to public participation
There was no public participation.
Consideration of any matter referred to the committee in relation to call-in
The Chairman drew attention to the two sets of action points that had been circulated prior to the meeting. He advised that responses to questions raised at the meeting should be replied to within 14 days. Officers should notify the Chairman of any delays.
N Howcutt introduced the report. Of the 9 key KPIs (key performance indicators), 1 is currently red and is regarding the time taken for debtors to pay. This has become a regular occurrence since the onset of Covid. Due to changes in government policy on the collection of debt, debt levels have therefore increased and a larger number of clients are now on payment plans. In response to this, they are looking at changing the KPI target as well as breaking this KPI down to measure performance against new and old debt. The government's Covid policy on debt recovery for commercial property and rent has changed since October and this KPI should therefore start to improve.
The scores have not changed in the Operational and Risk Report from quarter 1 to quarter 2 and performance remains strong. There are vulnerabilities, particularly around income generated from commercial assets due to bad debt and the current economic status. Overall, the risk targets for quarter 2 have been achieved.
The Chairman referred to FIN06 on page 14 of the report, noting that the position is of end of June. He asked if it was appropriate that the report should only run up to June given that it is now November, and whether this report was now irrelevant.
N Howcutt responded that it was not completely irrelevant, though the report could be timelier. N Howcutt advised that the original agenda included the quarter 2 budget monitoring report, though this was removed due to the pay award announcement made today, as the report would've changed significantly in light of this. This report will therefore come back to the Committee next month with a more up-to-date position. N Howcutt added that comments included in the report do take the more recent economic situation into account and that there has not been a significant change since quarter 2, notwithstanding the pay award change made today.
Cllr Guest referred to FIN02a on page 10 of the report regarding the time taken for debtors to pay, and asked if there were any announcements regarding other types of debt.
N Howcutt commented that other than commercial property and CIL (Community Infrastructure Levy) payments, all other areas are achieving the target, and that the issue is primarily linked to commercial debt. As commercial debt is around 80% of overall debt, it therefore overlaps all other areas.
Cllr Guest advised that she is Chair of the Development Management Committee and asked if any actions are being taken to achieve CIL payments.
N Howcutt confirmed that there is an additional KPI regarding CIL payments and it is being monitored closely. CIL payments are generally very large and are due as soon as development starts, though this is the hardest point for developers from a cash flow perspective, and 1-2 CIL payments not being made can affect 60-70% of overall CIL payments. This is being monitored separately and has significantly improved over recent years.
The Chairman commented on the new infrastructure levy proposed by ... view the full minutes text for item 49.
M Brookes introduced the report and welcomed questions from the committee.
Cllr Guest referred to page 28 regarding animal licensing reports and enforcement. She asked how the team were currently processing that work if the officer mentioned in the report hadn’t yet completed the training course.
M Brookes advised that there was another officer within the team who was already trained.
Cllr Guest referred to page 29 in relation to the print and post room processing 73,170 mail items at a cost of £37,082. She questioned if the mail was checked to ensure everything was sent out, as some residents within her ward had not received post regarding a mobile mast.
M Brookes advised that the team receive mail from all teams across the council who cross-check what is sent against their records, and therefore checks are conducted at departmental level.
Cllr Guest noted the statement on page 29 that 609 cheques were processed with an income of £140,071.90. She asked what payments were being made by cheque and whether people were being encouraged to pay by more efficient means.
M Brookes advised he was unsure what the cheque payments were for as they were from across the council. He added that the council does encourage people to pay via electronic means where possible.
Cllr Freedman referred to animal control and advised of a number of links on the DBC website and those of other organisations that refer issues to the dog warden email address, which then states that the email is not monitored.
M Brookes advised that this comes under Environmental Services, though he would pass the comment on. Action.
Cllr Freedman noted the data regarding Legal cases and asked if this is a highlight reel or if other cases had not been reported.
M Brookes confirmed that these were the cases that went to Court during the quarter.
Cllr Freedman referred to the Mayoralty budget, noting that Berkhamsted Town Council have decided, given the current climate, to reduce the budget and scope in terms of Mayoral engagements, and recommended that a similar discussion be had at borough level.
The Chairman suggested that this is not a question that M Brookes could answer as he had presented an operational report and that the question was a policy decision.
Cllr Freedman acknowledged the comment and noted that his question was if the discussion was being had.
The Leader of the Council stated that he did not envisage that the Mayoralty budget would be reduced in the next financial year.
Cllr Adeleke commented on item 4 of the report and asked how the council is getting value for money and measures its success rate.
M Brookes advised that the fines are received by the HM Treasury and not income-producing in any way. They act as a deterrent to prevent inappropriate behaviour across the borough and that the individuals receive a permanent criminal record. Improvements are measured by the teams and prosecution is a key part of this.
Cllr Suqlain Mahmood questioned ... view the full minutes text for item 50.
B Hosier presented the report, particularly noting the red KPI on car parking income and that this is running 20% below target as at the end of quarter 2. Usage is yet to pick up since Covid, suggesting that customer behaviour has changed.
Cllr Symington referred to pages 34-35 regarding procurement activity and asked how the information could be presented if they are still going out to tender.
B Hosier confirmed that the values have been taken to the contract register, which is published online. Once it goes out to tender, the amount may change as this will depend on the market and what is required, so the value provides an indication for the committee on the value of the contract.
Cllr Symington asked what price inflation they are expecting to see on the values indicated.
B Hosier stated that he would not know until they have been through the commissioning process. Whilst inflation will impact the value, it will also depend on how the requirement is packaged. There is a budget in place and commissioning must be within that.
Cllr Symington commented on non-compliant expenditure, noting that this was raised in the audit report. Cllr Symington asked why commissioning didn't take place before a contract expired and why this wasn't being reduced.
B Hosier advised that a commissioning and procurement period are built in, and there can be slippage in terms of client officers and workloads. A commissioning plan has been developed, and any activities that are 2-3 years overdue are flagged, though there will be some slippage.
Cllr Freedman asked for further information on the tree maintenance service contract and the facilities management services contract.
B Hosier stated that the current facilities management contract is due to expire and recommissioning has commenced where they assess the level of service required. On the tree maintenance contract, B Hosier noted that it was reported in quarter 1 that there were standing orders to award a direct contract on the basis that one contractor was struggling post-Covid and therefore a direct contract was offered rather than going out to tender. The tree maintenance service is split between rural and woodland.
Cllr Freedman made reference to the maintenance work provided to other Councils on behalf of HCC and asked if this was being carried out by the internal team or by outsourced teams.
B Hosier stated that he would need to confirm this, though he would assume that work is carried out by both. Action.
Cllr Freedman asked if procurement decisions are benchmarked against bringing the work in-house.
B Hosier advised that this would be undertaken as part of the commissioning stage where there is an assessment on whether the council has the capacity and capability to bring work in-house. Typically, the approach to market is only done once a decision is made that the service can't be delivered in-house.
Cllr Freedman commented that he would like to see the decision-making process and asked for reassurance that there is a review ... view the full minutes text for item 51.
A Wilkie introduced the report. In relation to People, sickness continues to be higher than they would like, though this is being experienced across all sectors. An action plan has been signed off by the SLT (Senior Leadership Team) and it is hoped this will soon have a positive impact on numbers. Turnover remains consistent, notwithstanding that recruitment continues to be challenging. On transformation, customer service performance is below the desired level, though recruitment gaps have now been filled, and the Customer Service Strategy is now in delivery phase. On communication, there was a large programme of events over summer, and having events fall under the People and Transformation team has been successful. A new Head of Digital will start next week. Performance has been strong over the quarter.
Cllr Freedman asked how many current vacancies there are, how long it takes to fill a vacancy on average, and the percentage of vacancies versus total staff numbers.
M Rawdon advised he would collate the data and circulate it to the committee. Action.
Cllr Adeleke commended the team and noted the improvements in communication with the community. He also commented that the playground refurbishment in Berkhamsted was well received.
An observation was made regarding sickness reducing and it was suggested that this may be a result of the new wellness programme.
M Rawdon confirmed that there has been a focus on staff wellbeing and signposting staff to mental health support.
Cllr Symington commented that it would be useful to understand if staff are returning to the office and whether this is being monitored.
A Wilkie advised that there has been a recent increase in staff returning to the office. A new project has begun; this will focus on what working looks like for different groups of staff and for different roles. M Rawdon noted that a session was held with the leadership team to discuss this and that they want to ensure that there is a hybrid approach that supports staff, customers and the overall service, and therefore the aim is to empower managers to work with directors to put a business case forward on the new way of working.
Cllr Symington asked for an update on the situation last week where staff were unable to work remotely.
A Wilkie explained there was an initial issue with the server that was identified quickly and was rectified. Another policy became corrupted and therefore needed to be fixed, and Microsoft had issued an update that, in conjunction with other security features, meant they were unable to deploy the fix remotely. A corporate decision had to be made to bring everyone into the office, which was largely well received. A Wilkie confirmed they are now looking at a lessons learned piece, and whilst the risk of the issue occurring again is minimal, a number of improvements have been identified.
The Chairman observed the large reliance on digitalisation and electronic communication, and they therefore need a facility that is 100% reliable.
Cllr Symington commented ... view the full minutes text for item 52.
A Wilkie presented the Digital Strategy, Communication Strategy and People Strategy, noting that they should provide the foundation for both transformation and delivery programmes. Due to being in a rapidly changing environment, items may need to be updated in future, and members were asked to take the strategies collectively and understand the need for agility whilst they are implemented. Delivery programmes are in place for most with development ongoing where required.
First looking at the Digital Strategy, A Wilkie advised that they need to harness the opportunities that digital presents to deliver efficient and effective services for their communities and businesses. This requires focus on internal processes, service design to avoid jumping to solutions, and making strategic decisions, such as reusing equipment and systems where possible. There will be a move towards the cloud, mobile first to allow officers to work away from the office, and having an IT system that focuses on how residents interact with the council.
M Rawdon next looked at the People Strategy, noting that it sets out to enable the workforce to have the greatest impact on meeting corporate objectives and DBC's transformation journey. There will be a focus on recruitment attention, as well as developing skills to support the current change process. It recognises the organisation’s broader transformation, particularly commercialisation, and HR (Human Resources) will support this from a people perspective. There is also a lot of work around leadership and organisational culture, and the programme that has looked at leadership culture will now filter down to middle-management level. Cost of living and the job market will also be covered by the strategy to look at how DBC is in the best position to support vacancies and bring in the right workforce. Investment is also required into HR to ensure they have the capabilities to support the transformation journey.
K Soley presented the Communication Strategy, which focuses on the strong communication foundation at DBC and will help with the creation of a more proactive communications service. Digital channels have become critical in local government communications and these therefore feature heavily in the strategy, and whilst it is imperative that the strategy ensures the council keeps pace with digital transformation, it also needs to ensure that no resident is left behind. The strategy also encompasses wider work on events and filming, and there will be a focus on how to develop these areas of work, such as the recent Halloween event in the Old Town.
Cllr Suqlain Mahmood noted that a new Head of ICT was in place and asked how they can make a document when they've had no input into the work.
A Wilkie advised that the new Head of ICT has seen the document and is comfortable with it, and it is expected that the strategy will remain under review so she can bring in further ideas.
Cllr Adeleke asked if there was any member input on the Transformation Board.
H Peacock advised that her team supports the Board and ... view the full minutes text for item 53.
H Peacock presented the updated Complaints Policy, noting that this is part of the Customer Strategy that is now in implementation. The main changes to the policy are around response times and on levels of responsibility, it also recognises that more customer contact is required to help reduce the number of formal complaints that the council receives. The draft policy will be presented to all OSCs before being presented to Cabinet in November.
Cllr Adeleke asked how realistic it is to have 1 December 2022 as the launch date and how they intend to train staff in time.
H Peacock stated that they believe the launch date is realistic and that work has been undertaken throughout the policy development to ensure that it is ready for 1 December. All templates have been revised to ensure they are in line with the Customer Policy and training has taken place through the intranet for all staff members. There will also be individual training with team leaders and above. She added that the Customer Services unit will have a central complaints team.
Cllr Adeleke referred to item 3.1 in the report and the definition of a complaint. He noted his concern around the use of 'expression' as there could be dissatisfaction without being expressed.
H Peacock acknowledged the comment. She explained that they need to encourage people to vocalise their dissatisfaction to ensure that the matter can be investigated, and any unexpressed dissatisfaction will be picked up through customer satisfaction surveys.
Cllr Freedman commented on the escalation to a formal complaint, particularly regarding a resident's view of who they have complained to. Cllr Freedman noted that sometimes residents will complain to a member and that members may treat these conversations as informal so won't note it down.
H Peacock acknowledged the comment and noted that some conversations may escalate into a complaint, which is highlighted within the policy and the fact that some complaints may come in on behalf of residents. Once this dissatisfaction is expressed, members have one team that they can direct people to for complaints handling rather than seeking an outcome themselves.
Cllr Freedman stated that they need to ensure that when a formal complaint is made, they bring in all the conversations that led up to it as residents will feel they started the process a lot earlier even if it is not treated in this way.
H Peacock agreed, adding that it is beneficial to see the history of the conversation to help gain this context and understand the nature of the complaint. The Complaints Management System is also in place to add background notes relating to the complaint.
The Chairman suggested that the point when a complaint becomes a formal complaint be reviewed, noting that members may need to ask residents if they wish to make a formal complaint. The Chairman continued that if a complaint is made online then the 10 days starts at this point, and if a complaint is made by letter then the ... view the full minutes text for item 54.
The Chairman noted the work programme, highlighting that the Leisure Contract will be covered in December.